The Best Wine Regions in Cologne to Visit
A Moselle vineyard | © LudwigChrist/Shutterstock
Three of Germany’s best wine regions are within easy reach of both Cologne and Bonn. Vineyards cover the steep hillsides along the Ahr, Rhine and Moselle. But there’s more to the regions than just wine. Read our guide here.
Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, a picturesque town at the heart of the Ahrtal is only a 45-minute drive south of Cologne. The wine region stretches for 15 kilometres between Cologne and Koblenz and is among the smallest in Germany. The valley is known for beautiful walking trails, award-winning red wines and medieval monasteries and ruins. Lush forests cover the northern-facing hillsides of the region, opposed by vineyards on the southern side.
Red grapes in the Ahrtal | © Julia Sergeeva/Shutterstock
Fifty winemakers share the 1,400 acres of cropland, the Pinot Noir and the Portugais Bleu being their favourite varieties. The region’s Blanc de Noir, a white-coloured wine made from red grapes, has become an increasingly popular choice in the warmer months.
The Ahrtal tourist board offers regular events, guided tours around the vineyards and wine tastings. Walking trails are signposted and can be easily explored on your own. Most wineries take bookings for behind-the-scenes tours of the estate and tastings of a selection of red and white wines from their production. In September and October, wine festivals are held in most towns along the Ahr, celebrating the grape harvest with live music, tastings and light shows.
The vineyard estates aside, the area offers a few of other notable sights. The Roman Villa in Ahrweiler is an important excavation site where in 1980 remains of a mansion were unearthed. Today, the well-preserved walls, a Roman bath and detailed mural paintings provide insight into what life in the ancient Roman settlement was like.
Near Dernau, remaining parts of a bunker built during the Cold War can be visited. The vast underground complex was secretly built to serve as a refuge for the government, then seated at the former capital city of Bonn, in the event of war and crisis. The on-site museum documents its history from the time of construction in 1960 to the dismantling in the late 1990s.
Schedule a full day for a trip to the Ahrtal and explore 2000 years of winemaking history.
From a tourist’s perspective, the Middle Rhine Valley is the most attractive and romantic of the selected three. From Bonn to Bingen, the 150-kilometre stretch is nothing short of a saga land. Dozens of castles, fortresses and ruins seam both sides of the Rhine Valley.
Starting with the Drachenburg near Königswinter, to the Electoral Palace in Koblenz and the Stolzenfels Castle outside of Lahnstein, the route along the Middle Rhine valley offers plenty of opportunities to stop. Visitors can and learn about the rich and turbulent history of the area and taste some of the country’s best wines.
Drachenburg Castle near Königswinter, Germany | © r.classen/Shutterstock
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2002, partially thanks to the distinctive and myth-enshrouded Lorelei rock at a river bend near Sankt Goarshausen. The folklore tale of a young woman who sat atop the cliffs singing in the moonlight inspired Heinrich Heine’s famous poem ‘Lorely’.
Festivals take place all year round. The most popular ones are the Middle Rhine music festival, the gourmet festival À la Région in June, and Rhein in Flammen. The latter translates to ‘The Rhine in Flames’ and is a spectacular display of fireworks synchronised to music. The annual event travels up the Rhine between Bonn and Sankt Goarshausen and lights up vineyards and castles at five locations along the way.
An excellent way to get around is taking a hop-on/hop-off boat trip from Cologne to Bingen, which allows you to get off at many stops along the way. If you’re looking for a more active way to explore the area, you can choose from two beautiful trails which cross through the entire UNESCO heritage landscape. The 350-kilometre-long Rheinsteig follows the east side of the Rhine from Bonn to Wiesbaden, and the RheinBurgenWeg takes the west side for 200 kilometres.
Either way, a trip to the Middle Rhine Valley is worth a day or two, and attractions can be easily combined.
The romantic Rhine valley with Katz castle | © leoks/Shutterstock
And it is evident why. Vineyards covering the steep hillsides follow the Moselle River from Koblenz westwards towards Luxembourg. The ample landscape is divided into six subsections which span the beautiful slopes and meandering river valleys of the Moselle, Saar, Ruwer, Sauer and Lieser. Popular walking trails lead past castles and ruins. Via ferrata routes end in spectacular viewpoints over the streams below. On the way, estates offer samples of their fruity white wines typical of the region. Other ways to explore are the many cycling paths and canoe or kayak.
The tradition of winemaking has shaped the region since early Roman settlements. The warm microclimate, nutrient-rich soil and the experience of generations have spawned internationally acclaimed white wines.
A traditional Moselle wine shop in Cochem | © Ceba/Shutterstock
But no matter how experienced the winemaker is, working on Europe’s steepest vineyards poses a challenge, even today. The Calmont near the town of Bremm and some other stretches only allow maintenance by hand. The work is incredibly time-consuming and has resulted in a decline of wine produced in the area. This exclusivity reflects in the price – bottles have secured hammer prices in the thousands in the past.
White varieties of grapes cover more than 90% of the 22,000 acres. A speciality of the Moselle region is the Elbling, a type of grapes that was cultivated by the Romans 2,000 years ago and the most widely spread variety in the Middle Ages. Today, Riesling that grows on 60% of the acreage has largely replaced the Elbling.
On a sunny day, secure a seat on the historic market square in one of the quaint Moselle towns. Cochem, Bernkastel-Kues and Trier provide the perfect setting to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a glass of vino. Or stay the night.
The types of accommodation are as diverse as the activities. You can choose from stays at wellness hotels, small guesthouses or medieval castles. Most offer pairings of white wine with local foods, such as smoked eel or Riesling-marinated sirloin steak.
If you arrive from Cologne, it’s best to take a weekend to explore some of the highlights and to get a grasp of the diversity the region offers. If you have more time, follow the ‘Road of the Roads’ all the way to Trier. The area boasts with an accumulation of 100 historic spots and UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
View of Cochem from across the Moselle | © Natalia Paklina/Shutterstock